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Bruce Dowbiggin

Sombre Salming Tribute A Reminder That Global Play Is Being Tarnished

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There are moments that only the world of sports can do justice. Plot lines that would be laughed at in story meetings are acceptable in sports. As they said for decades on Wide World of Sports, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat…”

Case in point: The two nights this November in which NHL Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming returned to his hockey home in Toronto for a sombre farewell to Maple Leafs fans. Stricken with cruel ALS, Salming found the strength to appear publicly on consecutive nights with former team mates in scenes that would make even the hardest heart weep.  [Full disclosure: We lost our brother-in-law to ALS and now our closest friend is battling the disease]

Supported by his former team captain, a weeping Darryl Sittler, Salming did his best to absorb the love from Leafs Nation at the Scotiabank Centre. A touching video of his heroics played as Salming dropped the ceremonial puck before the Toronto/ Vancouver contest.

His afflicted face reflected the cruelty of what is widely known as Lou Gehrig disease. (In a move only a Centre of the Universe fan can make, someone suggested that, because Gehrig played a century ago, the disease should now be known as Borne Salming disease so younger people can get cozy with it. Please.)

For those too young to have seen Salming in his prime, he was the template of the Swedish NHL defenceman to come. Arriving in a league hostile to anyone but Canadian players, he rose to the top at his position despite the chaos behind the scenes with the Harold Ballard’s Leafs. Think a more physical Nicklas Lidstrom, a more stylish Victor Hedman, a shot-blocking Erik Karlsson.

Long and lean, he was courageous in a time when Swedes, in the mocking words of Ballard, were said to go into the corner with eggs in their pocket and not break one. Borje stopped that talk. He put up 787 points during his career and made so many teammates look better playing next to him.

For an organization tortured by Ballard’s antics and continued mismanagement Salming was a beacon of hope for fans who have not seen even a Stanley Cup final series appearance since 1967. With Sittler and Lanny McDonald he offered a chance for respectability. A chance that— through no fault of Salming’s— never arrived.

Testament to how respected he was Salming was never a target of abuse from rival fans. His skill and courage— he once absorbed 200-plus stitches in his face to repair a hideous skate gash and played three days latter— was admired even in super-rival Montreal. When he had personal substance problems, he was never mocked by even the most bitter foes.

Salming arrived just as international hockey became a thing with the 1972 Canada/ USSR series. The trickle of players like Salming soon became a steady flow of Europeans that culminated in the eventual arrival of Russians and other Soviet Bloc players in the 1980s and ‘90s. International games at the Canada Cup, Rendezvous Series and Olympics became the greatest contests many fans ever saw.

TURIN, ITALY – FEBRUARY 24: Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of Sweden shake hands with Ales Kotalik #22 of Czech Republic after they won the semi final of the men’s ice hockey match between Sweden and Czech Republic during Day 14 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 24, 2006 at the Palasport Olimpico in Turin, Italy. Sweden won 7-3 to reach the final. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Somehow the NHL has lost the thread on international hockey. Proof positive was the news last week that the league and the NHLPA have discontinued plans for a World Cup of Hockey in 2024. Usually the sticking point in getting a WC and Olympics has been the location of the tournament or interrupting a season.

But this time the problem is, like so much these days, the war in Ukraine and Covid protocols. Put simply, the Czechs and Slovaks will not play in any tournament in which a Putin-led Russia is a participant. Legendary Czech goalie Dominik Hašek said as much recently. His country of Czechia will not participate until Putin’s vicious incursion in Ukraine is ended.

In a tweet salvo, Hasek wrote: “The NHL must immediately suspend contracts for all Russian players! Every athlete represents not only himself and his club, but also his country and its values and actions. That is a fact. If the NHL does not do so, it has indirect co-responsibility for the dead in Ukraine.

“I also want to write, that I am very sorry for those Russian athletes, who condemn V. Putin and his Russian aggression in Ukraine. However, at the moment I also consider their exclusion a necessity.”

For Hasek and others, memories of the Soviet Bloc are still too fresh in large parts of Europe to pretend that it’s business-as-usual when it comes to dealing with megalomaniac Russian leaders. If there were a WC in 2024— and Putin still rules in Moscow— it would be minus either the Russians or their (justifiably) fearful neighbours in eastern Europe.

Additionally, the spectre of bureaucratic overreach on the Covid virus in many Western nations remains an impediment to any large sports gathering. Already this fall we can see the purveyors of masking and lockdowns gearing up for another run at imposing themselves on a public weary of their draconian solutions.

Poling this week in Canada by the official pollster of CTV— a recipient of federal funds— suggests that well over 50 percent of the population favours a return to indoor mask mandates. Teachers unions continue to agitate for locking down schools this winter should it prove an aggressive respiratory season again. There are also rumbles of mandatory vaccinations again, despite the evidence of injuries suffered by those who took the vaccines.

While these moves will generate far more backlash than when they were first imposed in 2020-21 the red tape involved in circumventing the diehards’ tactics would also create delays and more.

No one asked Salming his thoughts on the Ukraine conflict or Covid-19. Probably a good thing. But he would no doubt be happy to see the resumption of International play as a by-product of peace in the region.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Will Cable Cord Cutting Shock Pro Sports Back To Its Senses?

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If there’s one constant in modern sports it’s bewilderment at how high salaries have risen for elite athletes. Where a million dollars a year was once the “unheard-of” threshold for salaries, today’s stars are easily taking home 20, 40, even 50 million a year under the new economy in sports. Even college athletes, once forbidden to accept remuneration, are cashing in millions for their name, image or likeness.

When people complain about overpaid athletes to IDLM we simply say the money is in the business, who else do you think should get the cash? Ditto for franchise values, where the Denver Broncos recently sold for a staggering $4.65 B. and the Washington Commanders might fetch $6B.

Largely the infusion of riches in pro sports has come from TV and digital-rights contracts between leagues and regional sports networks (RSN). Those RSNs are the carriers of the local and regional teams. Packaged through cable or satellite carriers they deliver valuable programming dollars to leagues. And for smaller media markets they are a vital source of revenue to keep up with the big boys whose ancillary revenues are pumped by many more customers.

As just one example, the MLB St. Louis Cardinals are currently earning about $66 million a year from their 15-year, $1B deal they signed with Fox Sports in 2015. There are 18 other teams on Sinclair/Diamond local TV deals, all of whom rely on RSNs to play New York salaries in Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

In Canada, as opposed to the American model, regional sports contracts are held directly by either TSN or Sportsnet, national carriers. The monopoly status has suppressed revenues to Canadian NHL, MLB or NBA teams relative to the deals cut in large markets such as New York’s tri-state area, southern California or Chicago.

Recently TV rights packages values were boosted by the arrival of Amazon, YouTube and Google which began to compete with traditional networks for U.S. broadcast rights. But now RSNs are threatened by the cord-cutting trend that sees American and Canadian consumers dumping their traditional bundlers of services to go à la carte digital directly with the producers of programming. ( In Canada the DAZN network has gone head-to-head with TSN for NFL games on a digital deal with the league.)

This past week the American cable giant Comcast reported a year-over-year 11 percent loss in its customer base. That’s about two million Americans saying “I can do without the middle men and the useless channels. I want to subscribe directly to the producers of the material I want to see.” From a peak of 110.5 million customers in 2013 the Comcast market is estimated to drop as low as 65 million customers by 2025.

In part this is consumers shedding programming bundles they never watch and bloated subscription fees as they tighten their belts. It’s also a reflection on the Netflix streaming revolution sparked by Covid-19 lockdowns that saw locked-down consumers get used to the convenience of directly streaming programming from Netflix or Amazon Prime or Disney without paying for a raft of useless channels.

Advertisers have noticed, too. They are headed to streaming services, where their messages can be more targeted to desired audiences than cable TVs scattershot approach.

The impact is being seen in the U.S. where Diamond Sports Group, which controls a huge portion of the pro sports RSNs, is said to be headed to bankruptcy court to restructure its $8.6B in debt. “There are a lot of business and financial terms and policies to work through,” says Deadspin, “but the long and short of it is that DSG is likely going to skip an interest payment it owes, which should be enough for them to get to the bankruptcy claim they’ve been rumored to be after for a while now.”

Bloomberg reported that if they file for bankruptcy it could “potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting rights revenues” for major North American sports networks. Greg Boris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University summed up the looming disaster for pro sports. He told The Score that RSNs have “been a golden goose. You remove cable TV from the scenario, and franchises are worth a fraction of what they are today, players make a fraction of their salaries today… the boom has been going on for almost 30 years. But the vast majority of the people that pay never watch (services they purchase). That’s been the model.”

Leagues are now investigating what to do if the RSN model collapses. Currently the leagues operate direct streaming services for customers wishing to watch out-of-town games not involving their local team. They could simply add the RSN rights too these streams.But direct-to-consumer can be very costly. The Disney+ operation was thought to be a slam dunk, but now management at Disney admits it will be a few years before the operation gets out of the red. American carrier Comcast launched the Peacock network as an outlet for NBC content. It lost $2.5B in 2022 and projects to lose another $2B in 2023. Similar startups such as CBC Gem have been flops.

Direct-to-consumer is also not the easy money machine that RSNs were. If a league or a team operates a direct customer service it takes on the responsibility of signing up and maintaining its customer base. That means dealing with the fickle fans who might drop his/ her package to an NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA team for a few years till the club improves.

That could be a disaster for underperforming teams like MLB’s Pirates or NHL Vancouver Canucks who had the assurance that, while their programming sucked, the other offerings on the cable package were worth customers retaining the service. Direct-to-consumer could, however, be a ray of hope for fans of bad teams that force clubs to finally get serious about producing a winning product.

This potential financial shortfall is probably one of the reason pro sports has so fervently embraced sports betting— to the annoyance of many fans. If the TV money goes, they’ll need every dollar they can find to pay out the contracts they’ve been issuing with impunity the past decade.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.  https://share.hsforms.com/16edbhhC3TTKg6jAaRyP7rActsj5

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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Bruce Dowbiggin

East Germany’s Triumphant Comeback Over Woke West

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“Mr. Gorbachev… tear down this wall.”— Ronald Reagan

News Item: California lawmakers pushing legislation that would impose a new tax on the state’s wealthiest residents — even if they’ve already moved to another part of the country.

It’s nostalgic to remember the euphoria in 1991 when the Berlin Wall crumbled. After decades in the shadow of nuclear war, everyone believed Western values had triumphed when the Wall came down. Freedom of movement reigned. Authoritarian rule had been delegitimized. Individual dignity was restored. Never before would the grey spectre of East Germany cast its shadow on the world.

Now it’s clear that, in fact, East Germany has won. The #WEF charter now tells people in the West that they actually lost WWII and the Cold War due to their privileged racism. Totalitarian European zealots backed by social-media Stasi are again running the show. Sadly, it seems to be working.

WEF “Mr. Big” Klaus Schwab can hardly wait: “Just think of the amazing 4th Industrial Revolution, aka singularity and transhumanism, whose technology includes AI, IoT, and genetic engineering!

With the WEF (confabbing in Davos) and United Nations calling the tune, free speech and freedom of movement are being subordinated to elite cadres of the unelected State in public and private spheres. Digital ID that would have made Erik Honeker jealous are being pushed by Canada’s PM. People who wish to express opinions or dissent with the ruling class must pass through a Checkpoint Charlie gauntlet of apprehended disloyalty and suspected subversion.

A typical sample: the Scottish government’s new Green manifesto “A holistic behaviour change approach – The ask”. Addled by climate-fever dreams, the Scottish Government is planning on reducing the use of private cars in the country by 20 percent. “By rethinking how we use our cars and reducing the number of daily journeys we take, we can help make Scotland a healthier, fairer, greener place to live and significantly contribute towards Scotland reaching net zero”.

This is not a suggestion. This will be the government using coercion to reduce citizens’ access to the roads. (That’s the “fairer” part.) Employing the intimidation template used for Covid-19 and its vaccines, they will let public snitches and scolds police the dissent. As happened with Covid, the quaking Greta Thunberg media will fall in line.

The Scots are not alone among First World nations employing the heavy hand. (Ironically, Scotland is ancestral home of Adam Smith, the father of free-market capitaltiism, and David Hume, a prophet of personal freedom.) Far from it. Remember Australia’s Tribute To Xi re-education camps, scooping up Covid-19 dissenters for sequestration in isolated barracks? This, in the sun-splashed, fun-loving Land Down Under?

Here in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, punishment hotels were employed on returning citizens to keep the population suitably frightened. If a few truckers decided that health passports, ArriveCan and non-vaccinated pariahs were an affront to 150 years of Canadian tradition? Employ media stooges and the banks to get them back in line. Get the RCMP to show weapons caches that had nothing to do with the border crossings. Dissemble.

For a nation as large as Canada Trudeau knows that restricting car mileage is impractical. So he cleverly does the next best thing. Jack the rate of tax as a climate devotional. Restrict fossil fuel consumption with the felicitously named Carbon Tax. Drive up the price of gas till citizens are forced onto crappy subways and buses to be preyed upon by junkies and mental patients.

The Liberal plastics-elimination program announced by former Greenpeace stuntman Stephane Guilbault is typical. When finally cornered on specious evidence that the road to hell in paved with plastic straws, the minister had to concede no such evidence actually exists beyond a few NGO websites. No matter. It seemed right and re-directed the sheeple to more snitching and signifying on CBC. It’s all done in the sacred name of climate, but the real goal is control of the government/ corporate nexus. Facts no longer matter.

It was all so easy-peasy. And if a few eggs were broken in making this omelette? The memory hole will seal up behind it. Novak Djokovic will be invited back to play tennis and pretend-normal will resume. Having established this new standard for abuse, we must nows pretend that all those police busting churches and barbecue joints was a hallucination.

As Matt Taibbi writes, the past six or seven years, “has been like being trapped in a fugue state, where reality is kaleidoscopic, memory is elusive, and moments of clarity sometimes more jarring than reassuring. To be reminded of what we were told day after day for years, after being trained to forget, is like waking from an unpleasant dream, prompting thoughts like, “Did that really happen?”

A perfect example of this disorientation is Leana Wen, the New York Times health reporter who’d led the charge on every form of Covid panic. Confirming data that would have gotten others banned 18 months ago she now tells CNN we’ve been vastly overcounting COVID deaths, outlining the crucial distinction between deaths “with COVID” and deaths “from COVID.” Duh.

As Taibbi describes: “… the pandemic was reported not as a collective problem to be solved, but a horror movie to be passively experienced. This is a media approach we see deployed in a variety of issues from fake news to ‘sonic weapons’, one that trains frightened audiences to endorse extreme solutions and outsource thinking to authorities.”

In case the frightened relent, there will be poisoned comebacks for what passed as normal since the Schwabians declared The Reset. Currently the U.S. Department of Justice is attempting to restore the CDC airline mask mandates that roiled the Excited States for two-plus years. This despite president Joe Biden, the document king, declaring Covid over last summer.

Still, the midwits like Chrystia Freeland and camp followers like Tony Blair and John Kerry keep flocking to the Davos CEO carnival. And what does WEF achieve worldwide— other than attract the fashionable and fatuous? Dilbert creator Scott Adams charts a WEF success story:

“They watched Norway create a fund, took credit for the work of members, mobilized coalitions, bragged about the work of signatories, teamed with others, signed a compact to develop a framework which will allow the measurement of a long-term approach, agreed to six principles, and endorsed a plan. How would the planet survive without all of that?”

How indeed in the tourist haven of East Germany? Ein prosit!

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.  https://share.hsforms.com/16edbhhC3TTKg6jAaRyP7rActsj5

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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